30 Second Wine Advisor: No sulfites, and it's good!

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No sulfites, and it's good!

As regular readers will have noticed, I have been restrained, at best, in my enthusiasm for wines made with no added sulfites (or at least not many).

It's true that a small number of people have been diagnosed by a physician as sulfite-sensitive asthmatics. These unfortunates may suffer a life-threatening allergic reaction if exposed to sulfites in wines, pickles, sausages and many other good things. If you fall into this category, you know what you must avoid.

But it's a shame that the federally mandated warning label has scared a much larger number into assuming that it's sulfites that cause their wine headaches or even, perhaps, impairs their ability to drive a car or operate machinery.

Hint: If wine gives you a headache and you're worried about this, consult your family physician. Don't deny yourself the joy of wine on the basis of self-diagnosis.

My problem with wines advertised as "low sulfite" or "no sulfites" is that this marketing technique plays on hysteria for profit, and demonizes a natural product that's been used in wine making as an effective preservative since the Bronze Age. Sulfites keep wine fresh, they preserve its fruit aromas and flavors, and they keep wine from turning as brown as a slice of apple exposed to the air.

Wines made without sulfites, in my experience, tend to spoil in the bottle and often turn brown and take on the nutty, Sherry-like character of oxidized wine before they're even opened.

But if you're truly sensitive - or even if you simply like the idea of a wine that's made with no added sulfites - I'm happy to recommend the California red wine made by Orleans Hill.

A red blend of Grenache and Syrah grapes with a little Viognier, it's labeled "No sulfites detected. Organic USDA organic, vegan friendly. Certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers." It's also "vegan friendly," made without the use of any animal products whatsoever.

What's its secret? This wine-without-sulfites gains an extra layer of protection from its airtight, sturdy metal screwcap, the same strategy that also earned my thumbs-up rating from the same firm's "Our Daily Red," reviewed in the Sept. 4, 2009 30 Second Wine Advisor.

For more information on no-sulfite and organic wines and the strict new rules that the U.S. Government brings to bear on their labeling, see "The Organic Wine Guys'" discussion on the Orleans Hill Website.

Orleans Hill 2010 "Cote Zero" California Red Wine reminds me a lot of a rustic, hearty Côtes-du-Rhône. I'm a little bemused by the winery's Website description of it as "The mellowest of the line … a great summer quaffing wine," but if you like tart, tannic reds that work very well at the dinner table, this one's a splendid buy at $10 or less, whether you care about sulfites or not.

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Today's Tasting Report

Orleans Hill 2010 "Cote Zero" California Red Wine ($9.99)

Orleans Hill

A red blend of Grenache and Syrah grapes with a little Viognier, it's a dark but clear ruby color. Good red fruit aromas, tart cherries and red berries, on the nose and palate, structured with tart acidity and astringent tannins; a whiff of fragrant black pepper in the background. A bit rustic for tasting alone, but just right with hearty fare. Sturdy metal screwcap seems to protect it, an effective solution to the threat of spoilage that otherwise lurks around very low sulfite wines. (Aug. 17, 2011)

FOOD MATCH: Japanese eggplant from the garden, slant-cut and sautéed with onions, garlic, green peppers and a light miso-curry sauce, inspired by a dish at Louisville's new Roots Heart & Soy restaurant.

VALUE: Not a thing to complain about at this everyday price, but bargain-hunters might check Wine-Searcher-com for some vendors offering it as low as $7.

WHEN TO DRINK: My primary concern with wines claiming no detectable sulfites is shelf life. In the absence of this traditional preservative, I'm inclined to recommend drinking such wines ASAP. That said, however, the sturdy, airtight screwcap is more reassuring than a natural cork or synthetic stopper would be.

WEB LINK: Here is the producer's fact sheet on Orleans Hill red.

Find vendors and compare prices for Orleans Hill "Cote Zero" on Wine-Searcher.com.

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